A Helpful Reality for Youth Workers to Understand

Have you watched those newscasts where someone who has been saved gets to be reunited with the person or persons who saved them? The TV crews somehow manage to capture that moment, hours, days, or weeks after the saving event took place. The saved person gets to tearfully express their sincere thanks to the one who saved them. During the saving event however, there is much going on as emergency crews frantically work to revive someone or get them to safety. There is usually not a good opportunity at the time to express thanks…

In some ways, this is a reality for us in youth ministry. Hold on for a moment and let me explain… Our students are walking through a time of life where they are navigating through challenging decisions, painful consequences, and times of extreme anxiety. Yes, there are many laughs and smiles and many hilarious moments we share with them, but we can’t forget that students are in the middle of one of the most challenging times of life. They are moving from being concrete thinkers where they saw the world as a simple place, to abstract abstract thinkers who see the complexity in life and the reality of the challenges. They see the complexity of relationships and they are pained by the messiness of broken marriages and friendships that once looked simple from the outside. They feel the need to succeed in a world that is more competitiveness than ever, and a world that is less forgiving than ever… It’s these storms of life that every teenager has to navigate through and we are the ones who partner with parents and come into students lives to support, encourage, and equip them as they get tossed and battered by the winds and waves of adolescence…

In some sense, we as youth workers, are the emergency crew who come in just at the right time to help these students pull through and get to the other side of their adolescent journey. During this time, there is much going on, and much drama, and confusion as they face one issue from another. As teenagers they are also fully consumed with who they are and are trying to discover their unique identity and purpose in this journey through life.

The Helpful Reality for Youth Workers

As someone who has been working with students for a long time, I have noted that students will rarely thank us fully during their time of struggle or during their time in my youth ministries. They either forget to thank us, or are too consumed with teenage survival to realize who is helping them in that moment… It’s not to say that we don’t get some “thank you” moments. But, it’s important to realize that students don’t mean anything by it, they just don’t consider it fully at the time. Just like the person who is being pulled out of the water by life guards and being rushed to the hospital, these students are crisis mode as they navigate through the dangers and new realities of young adulthood.

If we are in youth ministry looking for affirmation from students and receiving continuous thanks for our efforts, we could become disappointed very quickly… It is usually way after they graduation that I begin to hear back from students and get hear their stories of young adulthood. It is often these times when I hear of an action or a conversation that the student remembers which made all the difference to them. It is then I am reminded that what I do is worth it… 

Today, as you minister to students, realize that they might not thank you for it at that moment, but like that person who has been saved from the treacherous seas, they will often seek you out later on to express their sincere thanks. Don’t be holding onto affirmation from them today as you might become disappointed and despondent that your efforts are meaningless… But do know, that you ARE making the difference!

For now, I want to say thank you to you! Thank you for ministering to students and investing in their lives. Thank you for giving up your time, talent, and treasure to make an eternal impact. One day you and I will have a joyful reunion with our students in Heaven and will have many incredible stories to share. Be a part of those stories today and don’t give up. Your reward is in Heaven and your thanks will be given in full…

Phil <><

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